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Appeals court rules in favor of SB Unified School District in former San Marcos High principal’s case

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- This week the Santa Barbara Unified School District found out a state court of appeal ruled in favor of the school district in a lawsuit by former San Marcos High School principal Ed Behrens.

Behrens was demoted to a teaching position at Santa Barbara Junior High in March 2018 under the leadership of former SBUSD superintendent Cary Matsuoka.

In a 15-page opinion, a three-judge panel upheld the lower court judgement of the Santa Barbara Superior Court.

"We are thankful that the court has ruled in favor of the district on all fronts in the Behren's case," said Santa Barbara Unified School District Superintendent Hilda Maldonado in a news release. “We are naturally pleased that this matter has been brought to a successful conclusion.” 

The favorable ruling by the court of appeals reaffirms the right of a school district to reassign a principal without cause, said Craig Price, the district’s legal counsel.

An attorney for Behrens' previously said, "We believe he (Behrens) was demoted because he followed the law."

The case claimed the “malicious and retaliatory demotion” is linked to “District missteps” in the wake of a social media threat back in January 2018 involving a number of male students. Many parents were critical of SMHS’s and the District’s response to the incident.

At a district meeting on March 13, 2018 about 50 parents spoke in favor of Behrens' but in a closed session the school board voted four to one to follow the superintendent's recommendation and reassign him.

Behrens contends the District violated his right to due process because it did not provide him with a sufficiently detailed statement of reasons for the reassignment.

At a public meeting on April 10, 2018, parents asked Matsuoka to explain appellant’s reassignment. Matsuoka responded that changes were made at SMHS to ensure “equal access.” He said hat he would focus on “the equity issue” in choosing the next principal, according to the court documents.

Santa Barbara - South County
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Bryce Hanamoto

Bryce Hanamoto is a producer and digital journalist for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Bryce, click here.

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